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Sunday, 5 July 2015

Women in music; a shifting balance.

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Live? That's one thing. But at Radio, it's already changed. And there's a programming rule for that.

I don't usually venture into areas which can turn into minefields. But I really think, from what I'm seeing, that there's changes happening. I'm only talking about two areas - what's up locally, and what's going in in mainstream pop, at radio. But, honestly, that's a lot to be going on with.
       Rebecca Downes     pic Mick Schofield
The week before last, I had a busy night chasing around Birmingham catching bands I hadn't seen yet. 

I started with Rebecca Downes - a two-person powerhouse blues/jazz set at the Blue Piano. Then headed to the Rainbow's seven-band indie night, to catch Shaake, a new project from Suzi And The Backbeats, and damn good they were too. Then to the Fiddle and Bone for some of Hannah Johnson And The Broken Hearts elegantly spinning tales of country heartache, love and loss. 

I had a great time: on night, three bands, all led by strong women. Only one little example, but it's more than a straw in the wind. It's part of a trend. 

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Auntie, It's Time To Do The Right Thing.

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This time, we didn't say it. Our MPs did.


Lots of discussion, since I last posted on the BBC's continued and very deliberate under-funding of broadcasting in the Midlands; not a lot of action. Well, not if you ignore what Cameron and Milliband both said at election time.

There's few signs that BBC powers that be are thinking of changing. But the issue won't go away. It's another elephant in the BBC room, lurking darkly, ignored in the hope that it might quietly leave. But this week, there's been a major development. MPs have stepped forward. Parliament has debated the issue. 

This was prompted by the Birmingham Post campaign, led by the extraordinary Graeme Brown, who picked up on the work done by the Campaign For Regional Broadcasting.

I went to the debate. It was fascinating.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Mahalia. Four years of development, and she's still only seventeen. Crikey.

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Ridiculously young and talented, with a major label deal... that might suggest you got it made. Great expectations then.


Four years ago, Mahalia played a Tea Room Tent debut slot at Moseley Folk. It was a gentle but excellent start, in front of some major Brum music faces. 

Four weeks ago, Mahalia made her BBC2 Later debut, fronting the irrepressible Rudimental. No build-up: the camera panned directly to her from Joan Armatrading. No pressure, then. To see how it went, scroll down for the video.
Mahalia is still only 17. She is being guided by her parents, who were both active in the music business in the 80s, and have the scars to prove it. She already has a deal with a major: Asylum/Atlantic. This is not usually how things get done these days. Not anymore. But then again, Mahalia is unusual.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Today's musicians, a vital part of Birmingham's Music History... and you

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The Highbury Studio pledge campaign. It's different.


If there's one brutal fact to take from musicbiz posts on this blog and elsewhere, it's that the old model is broken. Now? There's no mid-ground, no comfortable living to shoot for, no clear path to take you from promising, brilliant and unknown to big and successful.

This gulf is everywhere. Record companies seek surefire hits and quick returns; careers can go hang. Huge numbers of name acts have been turfed off their rosters. Online? Apple's bombastic launch of their new music service had fine words, but the small print shows they will pay artists nothing for the three months of free trial each subscriber signs up for - this could not be a clearer example of the mighty exploiting the vulnerable.

And that brings me to crowd-sourcing - a natural development for working music businesses and beyond to tap into support, now that the previous providers have lost interest. Now, there's a very inventive campaign, freshly launched, that you really ought to know about. It ticks boxes - a lot of boxes. 

Sunday, 7 June 2015

You think you've got choices? The Musicbiz would rather you didn't

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FIFA may be dodgy, but try looking at the hype industry



There's a fantastic, possibly apocryphal, story of how one record company rep made quite sure that only his company's stuff was played at US R'n'B radio in the 50s. This was in the days of 78s. The rep simply, accidentally on purpose, cracked all the other records in the library, leaving them unplayable. Oops, sorry 'bout that. 

The Music business has a long and unsavoury history of dodgy deals. Back in the 30s, song pluggers would pitch songs for their publishing company bosses, first when selling sheet music in music shops, and later pitching material to record companies and band leaders. Even Gerschwin, when he wasn't banging out hits, worked as a song plugger. Such territory is ripe for manipulation. And before radio killed jukeboxes, there was intense competition to place songs on the right machines.    

You may ask what that ancient history have to do either with today's relentlessly, um, transparent music industry, or even music on our patch? Well... quite a lot. 

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Analogue Tales: James Summerfield and Darren Cannan

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Last year, just as summer shaded into autumn, I spoke with James Summerfield, whose latest project is surfacing right now; then it was in the throes of assembly, recording and aligning. Analogue Tales: Sounds From Arden is an extraordinary work, taking the words and ideas of local poet Darren Cannan, and setting it to a lush musical background, supplied by James. It's released on the estimable local label Commercially Inviable. James sings on most of the tracks, but others are voiced by the likes of Paul Murphy, Ranking Roger, Catherine O'Flynn, Mike Gayle, James' nan Marjorie, and myself. 

When you listen to it, the obvious, screaming question is – why don't people do this more often? It's amazing.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

I used to go to Barbarellas

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People and bands and music and sticky carpet make places 


I've been working up a few posts for Time Out Brum of late. Some of them are on local music history, including this one on lost venues. It's had a big reaction, and I'm now looking at more stories that have come my way. Thank you! And keep them coming. 

We've lost a lot of venues over the years. It's sad to seem them go, of course; hardest on the people who made a particular place what it was. There was a great book published last year about JBs in Dudley. There's memories aplenty scattered around on websites. But there really isn't enough about one place I spent lots of time either DJing or sticking to the carpet: the primo 70s and 80s Rock venue in Birmingham... Barbarellas.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Don't you point that thing at me #7 : Sam Frank Wood

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Catch that moment... sometimes under exacting circumstances


St Vincent at Birmingham Institute  
There's a pic on facebook about how crazy musicians are to put their five grand instruments into a car worth maybe five hundred, and drive a hundred miles for a fifty quid gig. They're not alone - decent cameras don't come cheap, and yet we often see two or three snappers at gigs, all with seriously costly kit, looking to capture something worthwhile - which they might not even get paid for. At least I can bash this stuff out on a three hundred quid laptop, or do my radio stuff on kit which hardly cost me anything. But musos and snappers? Mostly, they fork out a lot. But they clearly love it all, the same way all the people in a local scene do.


Sunday, 10 May 2015

Open Mic nights - a most variable feast. You should go.

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The historic Fiddle and Bone and the very new Dark Horse: two ways to do Open Mic. Why not try both?

It's around eight o'clock on a sunny Tuesday evening on Sheepcote Street in Birmingham centre. Things are warming up as Richard Heath sets up the PA for his new Open Mic night at the Fiddle and Bone

This is a Very Good Thing. Music is back at the Fiddle and Bone. The place was set up first and foremost as a music venue. Now it's back after over a decade, hosting live music the way it used to. We've regained a city centre music venue. 

Its closure followed an unpleasant episode of noise complaints from newly arrived flat-dwellers. Noise complaints still dog local venues; efforts to get the city to grasp this nettle have met with silence and evasion. The Fiddle and Bone's case caused particular rancour, and dark rumours still circulate.But that was then...

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Rumbles in the radio jungle

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Tricky times for pop radio


If you look at what's playing at radio, you'll mostly find bleakly repetitive fare. 

Further down this post, I've got an analysis of five stations (three West Midlands analogue, two national digital), with their current most-played artists, taken from the Compare My Radio site. Everyone is playing youth diva Taylor Swift. Four of the five are playing Sam Smith. 

It's a typical pattern; has been for years. Most commercial stations go for safe, reliable and familiar. It's the McDonalds way: familiarity and repetition. Punters know what to expect; the brand is crystal-clear. 

But the web came along and overturned the applecart. And now, news that came out last week could have huge implications for the industry.